Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days

Since the release of Kingdom Hearts II on the Sony PlayStation 2, years would pass without the announcement of the next main numbered title in the franchise, Square-Enix being content to release spinoff titles and the occasional remake, the first among the former being Chain of Memories for the GameBoy Advance, and the first among the latter being a remake entitled Re:Chain of Memories for the PlayStation 2. The announcement of a spinoff for the Nintendo DS entitled Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days (pronounced “three-five-eight days over two”), ultimately came, alongside its Japanese and North American releases, the game itself providing an experience very much on par with the main numbered installments.

The spinoff title follows Roxas, a character introduced in Kingdom Hearts II, as he participates on various missions as the thirteenth member of Organization XIII for the titular three-hundred and fifty-eight days, with a mysterious fourteenth member, Xion, playing plenty a part as well, the chief events taking place parallel to the original Kingdom Hearts and its spinoff Chain of Memories. The narrative is actually vastly superior to those in the numbered games, focusing more greatly upon the original characters instead of the Disney and Square-Enix characters like in the first and second main entries, and while the former do occasionally play some part, the storylines of their respective films are mercifully not rehashed. The game does somewhat go overboard with scenes where the Organization XIII members sit on the edge of Twilight Town’s primary clock tower enjoying sea salt ice cream, and there are rare instances where the text on-screen doesn’t represent voiced dialogue, but other than that, the plot definitely helps the game far more than hurts.

Despite the more limited controls of the Nintendo DS compared to those for the PlayStation 2 entries, 358/2 Days actually does a surprisingly good job translating the hack-and-slash Kingdom Hearts gameplay to the system, with adjustable difficulty when starting a new game and two different camera options. For the most part the player controls Roxas as he hacks away at Heartless and rare Nobodies with his keyblade, with an occasional A.I.-controlled member of Organization XIII accompanying him, defeated enemies dropping balls that slightly restore his hit points and supplement his money, the player outside combat at the group’s headquarters able to synthesize weapons with the money and occasionally-dropped materials and use heart points also occasionally gained from defeating foes to obtain new abilities and materials as well.

Chief to Roxas’s status development is a system of up to three pages of slots, gradually unlocked when he completes missions, into which the player can place panels that represent things such as his current keyblade, casts of magic, items, and abilities such as air-sliding, some panels occupying more than one slot and into which the player can add supplemental panels to enhance these abilities. The player must perform story-specific missions to advance the game, although there are occasionally extra missions that are missable, and since accomplishing these usually provides additional slots for Roxas’s panels, to complete them is advisable and can make the endgame missions much more bearable. The gameplay definitely helps the game more than hurts, the camera rarely being a nuisance, although there are some occasional annoying enemies that may disappear when straying too far from their points of origin and recover full health when they respawn, but still, the battle system is very much enjoyable.

The spinoff’s controls hardly leave room for improvement, with a linear structure keeping players moving in the right direction, easy panel management, easy shopping, a pause button in the middle of combat, and the DS’s built-in sleep mode, the only major flaw being the lack of mid-mission saving.

358/2 Days mostly uses music from the other titles, although there are some original pieces such as the Neverland world theme alongside a few themes played during cutscenes, and the sound effects and voicework are top-notch, the latter bearing actor Wayne Allwine’s final performance as Mickey Mouse. Ultimately, a superb-sounding game.

The DS entry also does a nice job for the most part translating the series’ three-dimensional visuals to the portable system, with plenty of excellent-looking FMVs, although there is quite a bit of pixilation and blockiness when the player gets close-up views of the graphics.

Finally, the spinoff isn’t terribly lengthy, taking a little under twenty hours if the player skips optional missions and up to around twenty-five if the player does them, with things such as Holo-Missions and Mission Mode potentially boosting playtime and giving the player the extra edge they might require to complete the main game, the adjustable difficulty and the optional repeat missions adding sufficient replayability as well.

In the end, Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days provides an experience very much on par with, even superior to, those of the main series entries, what with its excellent translation of keyblade combat to the Nintendo DS despite more restrictive controls, superb control, an enjoyable narrative that unlike those in the main entries is far from infantile, solid sound, and great graphics. Admittedly, those that haven’t played the main games might be lost with some regard to the storyline, and while it might be best to play this particular entry after experience other titles, players will consequentially find this spinoff to be a rewarding experience.

The Good:
+Great combat system with plenty of customization options.
+Superb control.
+Enjoyable narrative.
+Nice music and graphics.

The Bad:
-No mid-mission saving.
-Plenty unoriginal music.

The Bottom Line:
One the strongest entries of the franchise.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo DS
Game Mechanics: 9/10
Controls: 9/10
Story: 9/10
Localization: 9/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 15-30 Hours

Overall: 9/10

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